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Argall: The True Story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith Paperback – Deckle Edge, November 26, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Reader Right Honorable; I warn'd you that this Book of mine doth drag me down toward the worst," writes William the Blind, chronicler of this third "dream" of Vollman's projected seven-novel series. The settling of Jamestown, far from being a Disney movie fantasy, prefigured the genocide that was eventually to quell the "Salvage" resistance to the settlement of North America. Vollman's angle on the "romance" of Capt. John Smith and "Pokahuntas" is not pretty. Still, Vollman doesn't connive at rote political correctness, either. Inspired by John Smith's own Generall Historie of Virginia, the novel is a vast fresco unfolding the encounter between the Virginia settlers and Powhatan's "People." Smith is "Sweet John," who like a good Elizabethan has taken Machiavelli as his guide to "Politick." His rise to brief eminence as the governor of the colony over the snobbish objections of the council is a tragicomedy of disappointed expectations, yet his policy of bringing war to the "People" has long-range consequences. When Vollman turns to the enigmatic Pokahuntas, he paints a portrait that is both respectful and moving, much different from the author's usual mannered sexual outrageousness. The eponymous Captain Argall edges into the foreground in the second part, succeeding Smith as Jamestown's leading spirit; he has the sinister bearing of some Jacobean theater devil like Iago, there's menace in his meanings. He kidnaps Pokahuntas and manipulates her assimilation into settler culture. Vollman's ability to write in Smith's English and endow it with a contemporary snap is an extraordinary feat. For readers willing to undertake Vollman's somewhat forbidding oeuvre, this is the book to begin with. (Oct. 1)Forecast: Vollman hides his light under a bushel of huge tomes, which is a shame. If reviews convince readers to take the plunge, this could score big but there's no denying that a 700-page volume three of seven (not to mention the $40 price tag) is inherently daunting.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

A novel about the founding of the Virginia colony, this is the third volume in Vollmann's ambitious historical "Seven Dreams" series, which includes The Ice-Shirt and Fathers and Crows. The book is divided into two sections, the first focusing mainly on John Smith, the second on Pocahontas. Both parts are told in the voice of the dreamer William the Blind, who for this occasion adopts his own weird version of Elizabethan English. Aside from this minor stylistic difficulty, Argall is much more reader-friendly than the other volumes in the series, in part because of the greater familiarity of the material but also because the narrative is completely straightforward, without the intentional dreamlike obscurities of the earlier titles. Vollmann's history emphasizes the paranoia and cruelty of both the English settlers and the indigenous Virginians. Pocahontas's eventual transformation into a God-fearing Englishwoman is a chilling demonstration of 16th-century brainwashing techniques. In William the Blind's summary, the Powhatans lost their princess and their kingdom but gained discount cigarettes and gospel radio. Arguably the best installment in this magnificent series, this is definitely the place for new readers to start. Highly recommended. Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles, CA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Seven Dreams: A Book of North American Landscapes (Book 3)
  • Paperback: 768 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (November 26, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142001503
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142001509
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.6 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,548,620 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Steven Moore on October 2, 2001
Format: Hardcover
With "Argall," Vollmann makes a triumphant return to his ambitious "Seven Dreams" series of novels, detailing the invasion of North America by Europeans and the legacy of violence and oppression they left behind. "Argall" deals with the British annexation of what they later called Virginia, and focuses on three colorful characters: Pocahontas, Capt. John Smith, and the sinister Sir Samuel Argall, who eventually kidnaps Pocahontas and introduces slavery into the New World.
As the voluminous notes attest, Vollmann has done his homework and gives us what is probably the most historically accurate version of the Pocahontas story. And he does so in an astonishing re-creation of Elizabethan prose. This isn't the elegant Augustan prose adapted by Barth in "The Sot-Weed Factor" and Pynchon in "Mason & Dixon"; this is the earlier, racier prose of the young turks of Shakespeare's day like Robert Greene, Thomas Dekker, and especially Thomas Nashe. As one of Vollmann's sources says of that era, "the whole style of the day was inflated--in writing and in living" (p. 707); hence Vollmann uses a suitably inflated style that captures the age in all its vitality and vulgarity. As both a historical novel and a linguistic tour de force, "Argall" is a magnificent achievement.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By "pangloss_" on October 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Vollman's not for everyone, and that's especially true of the Seven Dreams. His partially-completed, seven volume imagination of the collision between European and Native American cultures is brilliant, ambitious, and at times dizzying. Reading Vollman can be like reading Pynchon or Gaddis; the unconventional dialogue and punctuation can seem difficult, especially if one focuses too much on a line-by-line reading. If you're willing to let yourself go and immerse yourself in the narrative, however, it is spellbinding. Moreover, once you allow yourself to get into the text, you become acclimated and find that reading becomes easier.
Anyone who enjoyed the earlier volumes of Seven Dreams certainly will enjoy this one. I would rate it slightly below Fathers & Crows or The Ice-Shirt, however, as there's a repetitiveness to some of the descriptions that detracts from the overall energy. Nonetheless, a brilliant and highly enjoyable achievement.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Guest on June 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
It helps if you're a little bit compulsive about reading Vollmann. Oh, he doesn't need the help, but as a reader, you do.
It's easy to compare him with Pynchon, since they both attempt a similar feat of matching subject with style in an expansive format that contains much humor peppered within the story. But Vollmann isn't a humorist at heart, he's part historian and part seer. He brings you the characters that you'd love to believe really are; he worms his insistent way into their hopes and imaginings so that he can present you with their characters.
You learn a lot of history reading the Seven Dreams series, of which "Argall" is a part. You learn more about how Vollmann regards history. But what makes the author so necessary and integral to my reading is that way of making me see how his characters regard themselves.
So throw your reading schedule out the window. Pick up "The Ice Shirt" and start in on this yet-to-be completed chronicle of how the Europeans came to the Americas and what that meant for both the Europeans and the people who were already here. Catch up soon, because you'll want to starting wishing for the next book in the series to appear... compulsively so.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Nelson on May 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
We Stole Puccoons; and whose Snake-Erring'd Nation the ***POWHATANS*** Lost, By the Scheming of our Counsell-Men, Princesse Poka-huntas (a country lass) to TOBACCO (but gained Discount cigarettes); Lost Kingdoms to *ARGALL* . . ."

In the Seven Dreams series one may begin with any volume, but of the four currently published volumes, Argall would be the most "American". Here we have a post-modern retelling of English colonization. As with volumes one and two, Vollmann adapts his writing style and language to the flavor and times in which he dwells. His research is deep and impeccable, and one of the most interesting things to me in reading the Seven Dreams is his unique style and method of mixing ". . . colors not only from the palate of times, but also from the palate of places" (The Rifles, 377). Did I really read of a bullet or bullets laying on the frozen ground in one foreshadowed scene from The Ice Shirt (which took place in the 10th Century)? There are a few such strange instances in Fathers & Crows. Less so in Argall, though, which mostly sticks close to the life and times of Captain John Smith (1580-1631). Smith is a similar "yeoman" type character to Poutrincourt & Champlain in Fathers & Crows, and perhaps Eirik the Red in The Ice Shirt. Vollmann utilizes these men as launching points into their time-periods, reassessing their trials and tribulations, conquests and failures. Likewise, in each of the first three volumes we find historically forgotten, but important women. They include Freydis Eiriksdottir & Gudrid Thorbjornsdottir in The Ice Shirt, Born Swimming & Tekakwitha in Fathers & Crows, and in Argall, Pocahontas.
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